Analysis Based on factual reporting, although it incorporates the expertise of the author/producer and may offer interpretations and conclusions.
After a day or two spent adventuring outside, I come back to my day-to-day with an extra spring in my step. The outdoors is where I feel most affirmed in my queer and trans identities, and most at home in my body. In a society where the trans community is vilified and targeted, taking a few hours or days to move my body outside—whether hiking, biking, skiing, or simply taking in the beauty of my surroundings—is a welcome reprieve.
Mother Nature doesn’t judge me or my body the way people or society often do. She treats me with respect and grace, just as she will the next person who comes down the trail. She will do this, however, only if we do the hard work of protecting her from the systems that are actively working to destroy her in the name of economic gain and the comfort of the status quo.
The forces and systems that harm nature in our extractive, exploitative political economy are the same as those that oppress queerness. We have a common enemy, but more importantly, a shared vision of what our future can be.
Queer ecology, which stems from the overlap of queer theory and ecology, embraces the plurality and paradox of nature, rather than forcing it into the binaries and categories that our society craves. Environmentalist and community organizer Priya Subberwall advocates for rejecting the idea of a single narrative in favor of recognizing that people and nature contain multitudes.
Queer ecology’s recognition of the nebulous, infinitely nuanced, and beautiful nature of nature provides critical insights into how we as a global society can justly move forward in the face of our climate crisis.
Nature, of course, is full of contradictions, paradoxes, and ironies. Same-sex sexual behavior has been observed in more than 1,500 animal species—from penguins and dolphins to damselflies and nematode worms—showing us that queerness is indeed a natural phenomenon. Ecosystems celebrate diversity and need it to thrive, which explains why our society, arguably just a glorified human ecosystem run almost exclusively by a homogenous group of people, is not thriving.
Queer ecology embraces the expanse of the possible and the liberation from categories. It centers the innumerable, dynamic relationships between all things, in ways that society’s binaries and categories can’t comprehend. We need queer ecology to inform environmental policy going forward, as it brings holistic ideas and decolonial frameworks that can work synergistically to ensure a just transition.
Queer ecology’s recognition of the nebulous, infinitely nuanced, and beautiful nature of nature—which is so often overlooked in the conference rooms where economic decisions and climate policies are made—provides critical insights into how we as a global society, encompassing both humans and nature, can justly move forward in the face of our climate crisis.
Holding and expressing queer identities can socially, politically, and economically impact one’s ability to thrive in our society. Health care and housing (or the lack thereof) are two of many lenses through which to view how the climate crisis will disproportionately impact the queer community. Rates of HIV prevalence, as well as other chronic and mental illnesses, are much higher within the queer community, making many reliant on intensive, long-term medical care. In the event of ever-more-frequent climate disasters, medical care is often interrupted for long periods of time, putting people’s health in jeopardy.
Emergency health clinics established in the aftermath of such events might not be safe spaces for queer people. For instance, they might require identification that doesn’t match with people’s names or gender identities, putting up bureaucratic obstacles to people getting the care they desperately need. Such emergency clinics and volunteer workers are often sourced from other communities, where homophobia and transphobia might be more prevalent, or from religious organizations that denounce homosexuality. Especially before gay marriage was legalized, queer families found it much more difficult to qualify for emergency aid programs and were discriminated against in the process. These barriers to accessing care are a distressingly common theme within the queer community and will only be worsened with the disproportionate impacts of climate change and unjust environmental policy.
Voices of those in the queer and other marginalized communities must be centered in discussions of environmental policy.
Housing is another area where queer people commonly face extra barriers. Nineteen states in the United States don’t have anti-discrimination housing policies. Paired with homophobic NIMBY mentalities, this failure to protect marginalized populations pushes queer people and community spaces into “gayborhoods” and creates disproportionately higher rates of homelessness. While concentrations of queer people and families may offer social well-being, they are most commonly located in areas with higher pollution levels. Such living conditions can worsen and complicate the already higher rates of HIV and other chronic illnesses seen in the queer community.
For these reasons and countless others, voices of those in the queer and other marginalized communities must be centered in discussions of environmental policy; ultimately, they will be the ones who weather the failure or successes of climate mitigation strategies.
The U.S.’s approach to climate and environmental policy, so far, has been lackluster at best and discriminatory, shortsighted, unimaginative, and insufficient at worst. We need to reevaluate and rejuvenate the ways that we address such crises, and understand them as having myriad social consequences that most dramatically affect the communities who have already been the most marginalized by our society.
Looking at climate change and other environmental crises through queer theory prioritizes solutions that encourage our societies to coexist sustainably with nature. Queer communities are rooted in unconditional love and caring, and the rejection of society’s imposed binaries and restrictive norms. In their work as queer and trans climate justice advocates, Aletta Brady, Anthony Torres, and Phillip Brown push for this understanding of resilience, interconnection, and compassion to be extended to our relationship with nature and the planet.
One of the tenets of climate justice is that everyone needs and deserves a planet where they can be safe and thrive. Queer communities have been advocating for this for decades, albeit in different contexts. The existential threats the queer community faced during the AIDS crisis, as well as centuries of homophobia and transphobia, created intergenerational trauma, but it also created intergenerational activism. The queer community wants spaces where we can sustain and celebrate our authentic selves, be it with the return of lesbian bars or by stopping sea-level rise.
Nature needs this queerness to thrive, and, like it or not, our human society does too.
I yearn for a world where governments and corporations are dedicated to remedying environmental injustices, where biodiversity is valued and protected, and where my access, as a trans person, to gender-affirming health care, sports, and public bathrooms doesn’t ruffle any feathers. This world is rooted in a simple truth: Climate justice is part of queer justice, and queer justice is part of climate justice.
Solutions to climate change and ecological degradation lie at the intersections of social justice and advocacy of all types—queer justice and beyond. A just way forward requires shifting our understanding of our relationship with the planet. We need to embrace regenerative solutions and turn to compassionate communities.
Joy within the queer and trans communities is an act of resistance. Embodying queerness authentically and unapologetically is a strategic form of protest and resilience against oppressive, exploitative systems. As queer writer and educator Eve Ettinger writes, one of the queer community’s strongest cultural norms and defining features is the “tradition of radical vision-making for the future of society.”
The strategies we have in place to mitigate environmental crises are not working. Environmental policy is in dire need of a kick-start. Grassroots activism that centers frontline voices, paired with principles of queer ecology, might be exactly what we need to move forward in a just, equitable manner that ensures the health and safety of our planet and all people. Though the burden of action should not be on the shoulders of those who have been marginalized by our society, these communities have wisdom and experience that can help to rejuvenate the environmental movement as well as environmental policies. The queer community’s culture of optimism, creativity, and joy in the face of adversity is a powerful tool.
I’ve seen this time and time again. In the gritty yet impassioned outpouring of drag brunches and drag story hours around the country in response to the onslaught of bans on drag shows, I’m struck by the joy that the queer community kindles in the face of oppression. We are at these events to celebrate our community and honor these forms of connection as powerful tools of change.
Nature is full of queerness. Nature needs this queerness to thrive, and, like it or not, our human society does too. And with this diversity, creativity, and queerness, in the words of environmentalist and drag queen Pattie Gonia, “magic is possible.”
Owen George is an activist, athlete, traveler, and outdoor enthusiast. They are currently pursuing a graduate degree in Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability at Antioch University New England, after graduating with a B.A. from Colby College in 2021. Their current work focuses on queer ecology and equal access for trans athletes. They currently live in Portland, Maine, and can be reached at [email protected].